Naughty Bear appears to be a game composed of so much invention and wit, that boiling it down to one choice soundbite seems almost heartless. But development team A2M clearly came up with some absolutely killer shorthand when they coined a particular appellation to describe their new baby. Naughty Bear, they say, is the ‘I don’t f***ing care bear…”
And that sums Naughty Bear up perfectly. Its dry, its acceptably juvenile, and it has an extremely bad attitude. It isn’t often that a totally fresh piece of intellectual property feels both like something unabashedly new, and also like the work of a team who’ve had years of previous iterations to perfect it, but Naughty Bear boasts such a boisterous and polished concept that its hard to believe that nobody has ever gone down this road before. Rare’s wonderful Conker’s Bad Fur Day from back in the N64 days was working toward similar goals, but despite its 18 certificate, there was always something vaguely acceptable and wimpy about it. After our brief exposure to A2M’s new game, came the realisation that those are complaints that will never, in a million years, be levelled at Naughty Bear.
The developers are pretty honest about pledging their allegiance to one demographic in particular – 16 to 34 year old males – but the game has the massive potential to appeal to a much wider audience than that. The anarchic sense of humour is instantly alluring, with effortless moments of brutal slapstick and cheap punnery all hitting their marks. But the spoof element of the story, which up until now has been kept relatively secret, has the potential to be a constant source of nothing less than pure comedy gold. This is down to one thing in particular: the voiceover. A camp and extremely upbeat male voice actor constantly narrates and commentates on the game – and the fact that his tone, style and delivery will remind older players of Rainbow‘s Geoffrey Hayes is obviously no mistake – and he shapes events into a kind of twisted narrative, very much like a 1970’s kiddies TV show gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Some of the gameplay is actually very similar to A2M’s last game, Wet. That was a title that should have been brilliant but fell just short, presumably because of corners that had to be cut, in the aftermath of the developers and their then-publisher Activision Blizzard being forced to part company mid-way through production. The things that worked in Wet (and earned the game a pretty hefty group of fans) were the combo and multiplier systems, both of which return in Naughty Bear. Every ‘naughty’ event is measured by a ‘Naughty Meter’ that sits in the top left of the screen, and if you continue to cause relentless havoc in short spaces of time, you’ll keep your multiplier rising and the points will keep flooding in. Its a very old-school gameplay angle reminiscent of the earliest shoot-em-ups, and it works.
In one prolonged section of gameplay that we saw, Naughty Bear is tasked with taking out Chubby Bear and his entourage. Chubby Bear is running for Mayor, and his first port of call once elected is to have Naughty Bear killed. Your job is to kill them before they kill you, and you are free to go about performing this task in any way that you wish, but specific goals will constantly appear at the bottom of your screen, always suggesting the route to take that will enable the greatest number of Naughty Points. You can use stealth (Naughty Bear is invisible to his enemies when he uses greenery for cover) or you can run in like a madman and just start killing, but the former option is always the ideal one.
You get the most points by messing with your enemies before you execute them. You can cut the power lines to their little communal cottage to arouse suspicion, scare individual bears half to death by screaming in their faces at point blank range, before taking them out and focusing your attentions on the rest of the group. Their behaviour is massively unpredictable too – and if one of the bears sees you murdering another, there is every chance that they will sprint for their little cars, or a payphone, in order to get the police bears involved. How you react to the police when and if they do arrive is up to you (in one instance, we saw Naughty Bear anticipate the arrival of one police bear with a brutal bear-trap) but the most entertaining way is to make sure that they don’t arrive at all – by stealthily placing mines on telephones and cars before you make your first move.
The violence is hilarious, some of the context-sensitive kills are accompanied by enjoyably terrible puns (“CAR-NAGE!” screamed the voiceover after Naughty Bear used a car door to make mincemeat out of another bear’s head) and the general tone of the whole game – one of truly balls-out anarchy – is very much its own thing. The distinctly British feel of the game may seem like an element capable of alienating gamers across the pond, until you realise that the kitsch, ironic inflections are no less problematic or impenetrable to a US audience than those that you’d find in the likes of Monty Python or Shaun Of The Dead.
After A2M’s Wet didn’t turn into the money-spinner that everyone hoped it would, alongside the demise of publishing support from Activision Blizzard, there was a suspicion that A2M would simply cease to be. After seeing Naughty Bear in action it is readily apparent that not only are the team on fighting-fit form, but they may also have a bona-fide classic on their hands.
Watch the Naughty Bear trailer here…
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